If she lived in our world, Elizabeth von Sarmas would be that woman who has simple tastes: she simply wants the best. She’d be the one in the $1500 cashmere-merino blend blazer that she’s had for a decade but still looks perfect. She’d own closets full of carefully chosen classic pieces, would never be on the fashion pages, but always in style. Except she doesn’t live here.
Elizabeth and her associates live in a world of hand-made, well-worn, recycled, repurposed, and very expensive fabrics. She spends a lot of time worrying about sheep and shahma, not just because they provide food, but because that’s where most of her wardrobe comes from. Everything on Colplatschki is natural fibers, aside from a few ancient scraps of synthetic textiles and a very few entire garments in private collections, ancestral treasures from the Landers that are not worn but kept as status symbols. As a result, even Elizabeth has to know at least something about fabric production and the problems associated with it, as well as sewing. Can you use retting ponds or retting tanks to quench newly-cast weapons? How many sheep or shahma can Donatello Bend support, with or without summer pastures (rented from several other nobles and the Crown)? Can that skirt be remade/mended/ turned into part of a jacket before it gets passed to a maid servant for her use?
Elizabeth and Lazlo, as you can imagine, are hard on their clothes. As a result they tend to wear heavy, sturdy fabrics, twill weaves and moleskin for the outer garments, heavy linen for under layers, shirting, and small-clothes. Elizabeth’s shimmies (chemises) serve to protect her dresses from perspiration and body oils as well as providing insulation and a modesty layer, much like Lazlo’s shirts and under garments. And linen is much easier to wash, and cheaper to replace, than the wools and wool blends of their uniforms and other clothes.
Clothing accounts for about 10-15% of the Sarmas-Destafani household budget, and that’s after the Imperial allowance for uniforms. Just as in Medieval and Renaissance through early-modern Europe on Old Terra, textiles cost a great deal in labor as well as cash. Shahma must be sheared (or combed, if they are throw-backs), the fleece washed, combed, spun, the yarn dyed, then woven and fulled or boiled. Sheep wool is handled the same way, except they wash the sheep before shearing. Linen requires cutting the flax stems, then beating the hard coating to crack it, soaking the stems in ponds until rot finishes separating the woody outer stem from the inner fibers, then hackled (combed to remove the bits of stem), spun, woven, and bleached. And only then can you start making clothing, bedding, and other things.
Elizabeth is familiar with silk and cotton, although they are phenomenally expensive luxury goods imported from the southern Freistaadter or captured from the Turkowi. The Turkowi and Magwi do a great deal of embroidery in patterns and colors that leave Elizabeth alternately turning green with envy and salivating at the prospect of getting her hands on some.
Color comes from mineral or plant dyes. The Babenburgs guard the recipe for the mordant that sets indigo into an almost unfading deep blue. Given the chemicals involved, and the lingering stench, they probably don’t have to work quite as hard as they do in order to keep other people from duplicating the process. Reds come from ocher or tree sap, nut hulls give several shades of brown, and the yellow on the western side of the Dividing Range comes from a descendent of goldenrod, brought by ColPlatLtd as part of an approved wild-flower blend. The Turkowi and Magwi guard the source of their bright yellow and charge very high prices for what little they sell. Black also comes from nut hulls, and from a type of fungus found on tree bark.
Most people spend a quarter of their income on cloth and clothes unless 1) they are as rich as Elizabeth becomes or 2) they get clothes from their employers. By the time a shimmy, say, is sold to the paper maker, there’s nothing left of it, it has been mended and re-made so many times by so many people. The poor may never own brand new clothes, while others save to have new garments on their wedding day. Women start saving for their dower chests as soon as they are old enough to sew, and those goods often last the family for a decade, depending on the number of children and how well the woman was able to prepare.
Although she never does wear much lace or embroidery, and sticks to dull (less expensive looking) colors, Elizabeth’s non-uniform clothes are made of the finest material she can afford. Her clothes’ budget rivals that of the richest duchesses and merchants’ wives in the Empire, and if she’d been pretty or had more attractive coloring, she’d have been the terror of dressmakers from the Verazano Sea to the Dividing Range. As it is, it’s Lazlo who favors bright plumage, and some of his waistcoats, embroidered or with woven-in patterns, make Elizabeth roll her eyes.
I tend to have similar tastes, such as wearing a $500 pair of work boots, because they are the best. But sometimes ‘the best’ just isn’t monetarily worth nearly as much more than ‘the good enough’ as the asking price would indicate. Then again, sometimes it is.
A question I haven’t seen answered in the books, are shahmas the descendants of llamas?
Ah! Yes. Shahma are a sheep-llama chimera. They are heartier than sheep and rustle better under certain conditions. Their fleece is a little finer but not quite as long wearing, so the herbivore blend sent to ColPlatXI included sheep and a type of Angora rabbit as well. The rabbits reverted, but the sheep and shahma are still going strong, along with goats, cattle, pigs, true-deer and true-boar. (Some desk-pilot decided to include wild boar to “keep the primitive atmosphere” and encourage tourist boar hunting. The bureaucrats had no clue what wild boar were like.) There’s a good bit more about the shahma et al in Fountains of Mercy. Oh, and they are clean and if slaughtered properly their meat is kosher.
I’m surprised that wild boar was the only such thing imported. Desk-pilots in some place far away always like to inflict such things on people, at least in Colplatski’s case they are no longer around to tell the residents how to cope with them.